Systems of support

Richard Steeves News Editor

Resources are available on campus to help victims of sexual violence cope, overcome 

Sexual assault is an epidemic on college campuses nationwide.

One in five women, and one in 16 men have been a victim of sexual assault while in college, according to The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of College Students on Sexual Assault. For survivors of sexual assault knowing what to do, or who to talk to, can be terrifying.

Oregon State University has services in place to help survivors make the right decisions following an assault.

Sexual Assault Support Services at OSU are available free of charge for students, are confidential and include the Survivor Advocacy Resource Center, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and Counseling and Psychological Services.

SARC is often a survivor’s first point of contact after an attack. Walking into SARC posters on the wall read “Love shouldn’t hurt” and “There are no grey areas in consent,” accompanied by hand written statements of support for survivors on paint canvas that say such things as “I believe the survivor” and “You are brave.”

“Our primary goal is to give people a safe and confidential place to talk,” said Judy Neighbours, licensed psychologist and SARC associate director. “From here we can identify what survivors need next.”

Employees of SASS, SARC, SANE and CAPS are classified at OSU as confidential employees. Unlike non-confidential employees, they are not required by law to report acts of sexual violence to law enforcement. This allows the survivor to make an informed decision about what they choose to do going forward.

In addition to the option of seeing a SANE or seeking counseling through CAPS, a survivor can also report the incident to law enforcement.

“This is their life, this is their story, and it should be their choice what happens to them,” Neighbours said.

Although always an option, Neighbours said many survivors choose not to report sexual assault to law enforcement.

“Most of the people I talk to don’t come forward and report it. The studies out there are also suggesting that 85 to 95 percent of survivors aren’t reporting to authorities,” Neighbours said. “Our goal is to give them options and help them make an informed decision going forward, whether it be reporting or receiving treatment.”

Even with so many assaults going unreported Neighbours said an alarming amount of people are still being assaulted. The rate is even higher among marginalized communities and first year students.

If a survivor does require medical attention SANE nurse Kelly Kendall is specially trained in sexual assault cases involving both men and women.

“I think we have a really good system in place to provide support for survivors,” Kendall said. “When someone comes in and reports an assault we believe them.”

Kendall can also help a survivor make decisions on whether to report to law enforcement.

Survivors have options when it comes to medical attention. They can have an examination done that does or doesn’t include a rape kit.

If they do want a kit administered, they can have it filed with law enforcement or file an anonymous kit. When a survivor files an anonymous kit it stays on file with authorities for at least six months and longer if they have room in storage. This gives the survivor the opportunity to file a report with law enforcement at a later date.

“It’s not our job to decide if there was an assault, that’s up to the legal system,” Kendall said. “We try and remove any language of them being at fault.”

In a society filled with victim blaming many survivors feel marginalized and experience fear, loss of trust, shock, shame, anger, self blame, numbness, depression and loss of self control, according to Neighbours.

“They don’t think people will believe them and they think people will blame them,” Neighbours said.

According to Erika Patterson, licensed psychologist and SASS coordinator, this is where CAPS can step in and help.

“Just come and talk to someone here and we can work together to determine their recovery needs,” Patterson said. “We are very invested in supporting survivors. We try to meet them where they are and make sure they have access to service.”

CAPS has a qualified staff with over ten counselors that are trained to work with survivors of sexual assault. Counselors can help determine what the best course of action is, which may include, but is not limited to, individual and

group counseling sessions.

“The good news is survivors can recover,” Patterson said. “Sexual and interpersonal violence is never the fault of the survivor.”

Neighbours couldn’t agree more.

“We believe you. We know this is not your fault. You are not alone.”